My father, a 1937 graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, adopted the University of Michigan as his alma mater when he moved to Detroit in 1937. His love for the university sprang from its academic renown, its glorious gridiron history, and his close friendship with the late Willis F. Ward, a 1935 Michigan graduate.
Judge Ward was the first African-American All American in football at U-M. Saturday afternoon trips to Michigan Stadium with him and my dad began when I was 10. I continued that tradition with my own son, now at U-M.
Long before my son went to college, the U.S. Supreme Court said institutions of higher education may consider race as one of many factors in admitting qualified students. U-M's admissions policies fully comply with the dictates of the 1978 Bakke decision.
On Oct. 23, U-M will defend its admissions policies at the undergraduate and law school levels before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. These policies should not be overturned.
My belief is deeply rooted in Bakke, in who I am, and in my life experiences.
Both my undergraduate and law degrees are from the University of Michigan. When I first entered in 1965, it had yet to engage in efforts to significantly increase the number of minority students on campus. But I am certain my admission to the law school reflected its affirmative action program of the late 1960s.
In my 43-year history with U-M and 30 years in public service, including seven as U.S. attorney, I've known hundreds of African-American alumni who contribute to their communities in exceptional ways. I am deeply frustrated and angry over the assault on affirmative action that is taking place in the courts, at ballot boxes, and on political soapboxes.
Affirmative action opponents argue that our own civil rights leaders sought equal justice, and a color-blind society, so why should race now be taken into account? But where was the outrage against injustice and unfairness during our country's first 350 years, when race determined whether a person was consigned to slavery? Where was the outrage when "separate but equal" reigned for 100 years, until the Supreme Court in 1954 outlawed discrimination in public education?
Opponents of affirmative action neglect to note that race has been taken into account in this country for centuries -- to the detriment of minorities. Detroit remains one of the most racially segregated cities and regions in the nation. About 82 percent of the African-American population in the tri-county area is concentrated in the city. A majority African-American population is found in only a handful of the 128 municipalities in the tri-county area. This housing pattern did not develop by accident.
Such segregation and divisiveness have resulted in serious injury and disadvantage to racial and ethnic minorities. Relatively recent attempts to ameliorate the past effects of discrimination, and to create a society in which the attributes of all citizens are appreciated, have met with only modest success. But because these efforts are recent, and the setbacks at all levels were so great, African Americans and other ethnic minorities consistently lag behind whites in sharing the resources of our nation.
Enter the University of Michigan, which takes race into account in a positive way. Bakke held that taking race into account to gain a diverse student body is clearly constitutional for an institution of higher education. U-M has determined the admission of highly qualified, dynamic students who will serve their communities in exceptional ways is essential to its mission. The university believes it can do this most successfully by enrolling an integrated student body that includes a critical mass of well-qualified minorities.
This country has abysmally failed to create a society in which all citizens share fully and fairly. Higher education affirmative action policies are designed to level the playing field on which race has often been used to dictate "bad" outcomes for minorities. Why should it now not matter?
Race does and will matter until all things are truly equal -- not only in higher education, but in all spheres of our nation.
SAUL GREEN is practicing law with Miller Canfield in Detroit. Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.